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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

The Dalai Lama is a meat-eater

October 25, 2010

Rick Westhead
The Toronto Star
October 16, 2010

DHARAMSALA, INDIA -- Little-known fact: His Holiness is a meat-eater.

A few hours before a scheduled audience with the
Dalai Lama in this mist-cloaked Himalayan city of
backpackers and Buddhist pilgrims, a member of
his staff scheduled a briefing to go over plans
for a rare interview in advance of his trip to
Toronto this week and provide details about the
Dalai Lama’s work schedule, diet and interests.

Tenzin Takhla, who is also the Dalai Lama’s
nephew, explained that the world’s most famous
monk has a habit of providing long, detailed,
even meandering answers -- dangerous in an interview limited to an hour.

"Be careful when you are asking historical questions," he said with a smile.

Seven months of the year, the Dalai Lama is on
the road, travelling at the invitation of foreign
countries who pay his trip-related expenses. He
flies commercial overseas, and is usually seated
with eight staffers in business class. Within
India, flight agents on Kingfisher Airlines, the
only company that offers flights between New
Delhi and Dharamsala, reserve him seats in the
back rows of a prop jet, allowing him to board at
the last minute to avoid drawing attention.

Considering he’s 75, His Holiness has a packed schedule.

His staff tries to keep Sundays free. On other
days, he wakes up without the help of an alarm
clock at 3:30 a.m. and mediates for the first
five hours of the day, taking a break for a
breakfast of black tea, cornflakes and milk,
porridge, Tibetan bread with jams, and fruits such as papaya.

Unlike most Buddhist monks, who don’t eat meat
because they believe it’s wrong to slaughter any
sentient being, the Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian.

"In the 1960s, he tried it for a bit but had to
give it up after he got sick with hepatitis," explains Takhla.

His compromise is to eat vegetarian in Dharamsala
and meat dishes when he’s on the road and it’s offered by his hosts.

At about 9 a.m. most mornings, the Dalai Lama
arrives in his offices here for scheduled
meetings and audiences, many of which are with
newly arrived refugees from Tibet. Media
interviews are uncommon. His office receives
about 400 requests a month and accepts about seven or eight, Takhla said.

While U.S. actor Richard Gere is a longtime ally
of His Holiness, Takhla said he couldn’t remember
another such celebrity requesting an audience in
Dharamsala. "No movie stars, no singers," Takhla
said. After a pause, he mentioned the Pulitzer
Prize winning author Alice Walker, who wrote The
Color Purple, had visited the Dalai Lama here.

"There are occasional meetings when we’re on the
road in different countries." Takhla said.

Lunch, the Dalai Lama’s final meal of the day, is
at about 11 a.m. and typically includes servings
of rice, steamed dumplings, cooked vegetables
such as eggplant, potatoes and peas.

Sitting in his office, decorated by a few
political cartoons lampooning China and a map
with pins marking the many countries the Dalai
Lama has visited, Takhla said the Dalai Lama’s
staff now uses two computers. One is hooked up to
the Internet. The other isn’t, and is used for
sensitive matters and to type up official correspondence.

In March 2009, Canadian researchers alleged
China-based hackers had penetrated the Dalai
Lama’s computer servers here, stealing months worth of email correspondence.

"We don’t really use email at all with our
overseas missions now," Takhla said. "It’s all
done by post or by hand couriers.”

It’s hard to create a list of compelling
questions that the Dalai Lama hasn’t been asked already.

He’s been asked about his hobbies (gardening,
feeding birds, reading books on World War I), his
views on birth control (he is a proponent) and
his weaknesses, which has prompted some
unexpected answers. During an interview in 1993
with The New York Times, the Dalai Lama said his
weaknesses include anger and attachments.

"I’m attached to my watch and my prayer beads,"
he said. "Then, of course, sometimes beautiful
women. . . . But then, many monks have the same
experience. Some of it is curiosity: If you use
this, what is the feeling? (He points to his groin.)”

A friend suggested mentioning to His Holiness the
actor Bill Murray’s 1980 comedy Caddyshack, which
contained one of the first pop culture references
to His Holiness. Murray’s character, a golf
course groundskeeper named Carl Spackler, said
he’d caddied once for the Dalai Lama.

"So we finish the 18th and he’s gonna stiff me,"
Spackler said. "And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how
about a little something, you know, for the
effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there
won’t be any money, but when you die, on your
deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’
So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

"He’s been asked about that many times," Takhla
said. "But no, he hasn’t seen the movie."

In truth, the Dalai Lama knows little about
sports or cinema. He had no idea who Tiger Woods
was when American journalist Larry King asked
about Woods’s personal tribulations during a
recent interview and over the past 14 years, he
has only seen two movies. One was Kundun, Martin
Scorsese’s visually arresting film about his life.

"He invited us to a personal screening at his
studio," Takhla said. The second movie was Indian
actor Shahrukh Khan’s Bollywood film Ashoka the
Great, which the Dalai Lama watched under similar circumstances.

His Holiness does like to read. His office
subscribes to Newsweek and Time for him and tries
to get him copies of the International Herald Tribune whenever possible.

For an interview scheduled at 1:15 p.m., Takhla
asks visitors to show up at his office at 12:45,
with passports and security forms filled out for
the Indian police who guard the Dalai Lama’s
temple and residence. After walking through the
first of two security checks, visitors walk
through a large courtyard with closed-circuit
cameras, pillars painted a mellow yellow, and a
large metal signboard calling for the release of
the Panchen Lama, the second-ranking lama in
Tibetan Buddhism behind the Dalai Lama.

The Panchen Lama has been in Chinese "protective
custody" and his whereabouts have remained a mystery for more than 15 years.

A second security check is more thorough, and
then guards with walkie-talkies usher visitors
past a courtyard where monks chip away making
miniature Buddha statues. There’s a basketball
net that’s used occasionally by the Dalai Lama’s
security detail, a monk explains.

After 30 minutes in a waiting room, where tables
are covered with Tibetan human rights reports and
other pamphlets, it’s time to meet His Holiness.

Visitors are asked to have cameras and equipment
ready before the Dalai Lama comes in. Flash photography is a no-no.

When the Dalai Lama walks in, he greets visitors
with a handshake and his trademark high-pitched
laugh. Other journalists have compared time spent
with the Dalai Lama to William Shirer’s
interviews in the 1930s with Gandhi. “You felt
you were the only person in the room, that he had
all the time in the world for you,” Shirer said.

Over one hour, there’s time for 23 questions,
before Takhla whispers it’s time to wrap things up with a final question.

I begin to ask about Tibet’s future development and His Holiness interrupts.

"Several generations of some good things (were)
put in monasteries in the form of statues or
stupas,” he said. “So all this have been
destroyed and carried out by Chinese. So now let
them build. Okay, spend more yuan. And (build)
good roads, good aerodrome, train, okay. But
autonomy? Really meaningful autonomy? Tibetan
affairs should be decided by Tibetans themselves.
Chinese can act like advisers. Most welcome.
That’s my view. Whether this materializes or not, it’s entirely up to them."

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